Tall Tales, Short Stories Highly Commended: Mileh Ahote

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How fraught desires seem to linger, in the intricate halls that line our consciousness, and how they still seem to emerge through the lilac mist of decades past. Those warmths, those past horizons that the velveteen brushstrokes seem to evoke, his faded skin – it’s almost as if I could peel these layers and histories away from the canvas, to reveal in unexpected clarity his face, his sarcastic grins_, IS SI ouette, during those lazy afternoons in the adherent, oppressive heat of those Continental summers.

I am a soul in transit. I feel no sense of citizenship, of belonging; my voyage is without origin or destination, I am but a blindfolded gondolier, propelled by a perpetual cyclic uncertainty. Still I am tempted, always, by ideals, ephemeral snapshots embossed with a glossy faux-romanticism – the colonnades of the Alhambra, say, or the chalky patchwork domes that line the caldera of Santorini. Soon, _though, they swirl away like so many evanescent mirages. I cannot betray myself with light fantasies; for many years ago the world revealed to me its evil core. Only that last summer re_mains, suffused with easy-flowing wine and garishly overripe oranges – those Catalonian crimsons that seemed to revel, almost ostentatiously, in the cloying heat. Ho/a, Jaume, I used to say to him almost coyly, letting the vowels ~nd ripen in my mouth before releasing each syllable through the tempting pout of my lips. Que fas aquf tan d’hora? That childish freedom seems now almost absurd to me. A gaping crevasse, like a ravine, forever separates me from the past shadow of my former self; now I am sickened by her innocence. Saps on es la meva mare? The cottage, that familiar ecstasy of wine and honeysuckle – even in this still-unfamiliar city, whose Gothic convolutions trap me like open catacombs, I cannot forget that smell – the smell, almost, of life overstaying its welcome. As I reach the top of the stairs, the world seems to collapse within. My legs buckle from beneath me, and I am left, on the floor, as songs of grief rom my rancid soul like blood-red flowers. My screams peal, regularly, cyclically, like church bells – as I reach violently for God’s fading hands. I cry out tortured rosaries, over and over again, as my tongue lolls in burning, slick saliva in the open wound of my mouth, as grief pours through my nostrils and ravages me, tears through the intricate cavities of my body, as I break, melt, through the air, as hell clutches me with unflinching hatred. The screams continue to reverberate through the domed hellscape beneath my skull, but they are morphing, mutating, and I realise that they are no longer mine. These are the screams of ghosts. This is Jaume’s scream, his face alight, the sickly-sweet smell of blood oranges and charring flesh. This is my mother’s last cry, as her head cracks, as the bullets ring, as the red night makes a fountain of her body. The retreat of the soldiers, the howl of bombs – this is my inferno.